What Is Socialization?

It’s everywhere. Every. Where. But most people aren’t aware of the effects it has on how they think, act, and what they see as possible. I see people not knowing what socialization is and how they are affected by it everyday. Whether we are talking about sex and dating (“It’s just a preference.”) or systems of oppression like racism (Black people seen as especially angry/dangerous) or transphobia/transmisia (Thinking there are only 2 genders). Socialization is there setting the scene for your life. Even in this society where we are taught to be “mavericks” and achieve our individual American dreams (these are all examples of socialization by the way), we are all living our lives by scripts and rules set out for us. And those who actually go against the grain in ways that capitalism can’t make money off of are socially punished at best. Many have also been abandoned, killed or imprisoned. This post will focus on explaining what socialization is and how it affects every part of our lives with the goal of helping people become more aware. I am constantly taking about the importance of self-reflection and awareness. Self-awareness and awareness of the various kinds of socializations is the first step to freedom.

So what is socialization? Socialization is the process of learning the social agenda and everyone’s place in society. It is a learning process that starts from the moment we are born that we can’t opt out of and we can’t avoid it. And no one is immune to it. Nobody is above the power of socialization. It starts from birth and you are already living according to what you’ve learned from it years before you are old enough to start to become aware of it. Learning in socialization happens on many levels: at home with parents/guardians, in extended families, at school, with friends/peers, in church/places of worship, in the community, in the media, etc. Learning the social rules and agenda in a society can happen verbally, in body language, reading between the lines in implied situations, etc. We are constantly learning ideals, morals, ethics, values, and rules for how to behave that determine all the choices we make. We are all directly and indirectly punished/rewarded for certain traits/behaviors. We’ve also watched others get gathered for things they did. We saw the consequences of their actions and switched up our behavior in response. That kind of learning literally changes our brains and affects what we think is possible to be and do in the world.

Socialization is how you learned to believe that poor people aren’t working hard enough or that “boys will be boys” when cis men engage in violent behavior. It’s how you learn that having dark skin is ugly/animalistic or how you learn that to be feminine is to be weak. Socialization is what encourages people socialized as women/femmes to stay with toxic men because they see the potential of who he might become while encouraging cishet and cis masculine men to leave the moment they are unhappy. If life is a board game, the game is rigged and everyone’s roles and destiny was pre-decided by a handful of people who cheated and stole to get that power. They wanna keep most of the winnings to themselves so they set up the game so people like them always win…as long as everyone plays their part. Socialization is the game rules and everyone is told that if they keep to the script, they might win something in the end. But anyone really paying attention can see that, like gambling, the House always wins. These rules are not natural law. This ain’t ordained by god or whatever other justification they use for being greedy and bigoted. Because socialization is taught from the moment we are born, it’s easy to believe that social problems can’t be changed. Poverty, racism, colorism, rape culture, etc. are man-made problems, not natural disasters that we can throw our “thoughts and prayers” at. That’s why it’s so interesting that people (usually people defending their position of power/privilege) love to talk about the “agendas” of marginalized people like ”The Gay Agenda,” for example. They snitch on themselves with this. Pay attention: any different ways of thinking and/or existing in the world directly stand against the socialization game rules and the agenda THEY set up to benefit them. If you act differently, you mess with their bag. They have an agenda that they want to protect at other people’s expense.

To complicate things, someone can both benefit from socialization and be oppressed in different ways. Somebody can be oppressed for being Black and gay, but receive access to power, spaces, or resources for being a cisgender, abled, and masculine man. This person could definitely experience systemic racism (job discrimination for being Black) and have individual experiences with homophobia (abandoned by his family and communities and forced to figure out life on his own). That said, he also benefits from living in a society that rewards and gives priority to able-bodied masculine men and holds back, oppresses, punishes, and/or kills people who are feminine and/or not cisgender. Because people often can both benefit and be oppressed within these different systems of oppression, many people often focus only on the oppressions they deal with and ignore the suffering of other people. Especially if they can enjoy some level of power over those other people. This society encourages people to not have empathy for others so everyone can keep playing the game. It’s exploitation on so many levels.

I mentioned before that socialization affects how you see the world. This can look like white people calling the cops on Native youth for going on a college campus tour because “they don’t belong”. Dig deep there: why don’t they belong? Why don’t non-white youth belong in school? That’s racism and socialization: racism is taught to us and is a part of how we are socialized. Internalized racism, homophobia, misogyny, etc. is also socialization. Even sexual preferences that y’all love to pretend are objective and not affected by anything. Sexual preferences and your ideals of attractiveness are strongly influenced by socialization. We are all taught who is attractive, who is worth dating and loving, and who is worth just having sex with in private. None of that is natural law. And I know what many of y’all are going to wanna say at this point: “I’m my own person. I just like what I like. I believe what I believe. And that’s that on that”. Yeah, you have an inner self. You are you, but this you is filtered through and shaped by the society we live in. If you weren’t socialized into believing that some people are less equal than others through racism, misogyny, homophobia/homomisia, transphobia/transmisia, ableism, colorism, etc., then you would have different values and be a different person. Like that Black Mirror episode: “Men Against Fire” with the Roaches [SPOILER]. Think of socialization as the MASS implant given to soldiers to hide the true identities of the people being killed. The implants created the circumstances where the soldiers could dehumanize people and see them as “roaches” in order to participate in genocide and basically their systemic removal from society. [END SPOILER] That’s what socialization does. Changing how you see the world so you can participate in society according to the rules. If you were socialized to see transgender people as equal human beings like you, you would be disgusted at how often people joke about killing them or how medical providers will leave trans people to die because healing them is against their religion. If you were socialized to see dark-skinned Black women as people, you wouldn’t call them “unrapeable” and “roaches”. It’s easy to separate children from their parents and then “lose” them if you see them as “animals”. And again, 1 of the goals of socialization, like the implants, is to systemically remove certain people or make them invisible in society. These are physical, psychological, and social genocides.

You don’t have to keep playing the game with the rules you have been given. Socialization can be unlearned. For example, people of color expect white people to unlearn the racism they were socialized into. And the Me Too movement is about asking people to unlearn the socialization around rape culture. Taking apart your assumptions is hard work, but it’s definitely possible. It’s something to work on everyday while being open to being corrected on your mess. Fostering awareness of yourself (1 way is through Mindfulness techniques. Check out my piece here) is the start to unpacking socialization’s baggage. Freedom isn’t something that passively happens. Ain’t nobody gonna just free us. We have to free ourselves and it starts in our minds.

Thanks for reading. The next post will be about dealing conflict and deescalating situations as a person of color in a white-dominated workplace.

The Psychological Impact Of The Drug War On Black Communities

This post is gonna be HEAVY, y’all. It would probably be helpful to read my Drug Use: When Is It A Problem post to get a sense of my professional stance on drug use before we get into this. If we aren’t on the same page about things like harm reduction, what makes people use drugs, the different types of relationships to drugs that people have, etc., you might get a little lost.

I’ve spent the last few years of my life working clinically with mainly Black and Latinx people from ages 12 to 80 with histories of drug use and that’s not even counting the years of non-counseling jobs/positions I’ve had where I’ve worked with people from this background. I personally have had to unpack a lot of my own biases, my assumptions, and the myths that society teaches us about drug use and the kinds of people who use drugs. We’ve all been socialized and fooled into believing straight out lies and myths. But now the climate is changing with this recent opioid epidemic. Now, there’s the performance of compassion in the media, in the government, and by some medical professionals. Suddenly everyone is expected to ditch all that socialization and all those lies about “addicts” that we were taught. The script is now publicly changing. It made me reflect on how Black people (and other POCs, but this is about Black people and our communities) were treated while our communities were/are ravaged by chaotic substance use and the messages we internalized because of it. We are blamed for a lack of morals and are punished for “weakness” through drug laws, arrests, prison, ineffective treatment programs that shame people and swipe their insurance cards instead of helping them heal, etc. And we as a people internalized this message while so many of our own have been abandoned. The jig is up though. This post is not about the intentions of the government or analyzing why things are the way they are. That’s not my lane. This post is a letter to Black people reflecting on some of the psychological effects that the War on Drugs has had on our communities and how we can unlearn the lies we’ve been taught by White supremacy in order to make our communities stronger.

What’s Going On?

Now, Black people, I know I don’t have to explain the stigma/judgment around crack and heroin in our communities, right? Y’all peeped that already? There’s no way you haven’t. We’ve all heard “crackhead” and “dope fiend” jokes. What’s so wild to me is that we know the government put crack in our communities to destabilize us. We know the War on Drugs was a set up and an attack on our communities, but we still crack jokes, disrespect people, judge them, etc. for having a drug use that got out of control. It’s cruel as hell and doesn’t make any kind of sense to blame the people who got caught up instead of the ones who set the trap. Especially when we all got at least 1 person in our families who got caught up in the War on Drugs on some level at some point. It’s a straight numbers game at this point. Local and federal governments treat Black people who struggle with chaotic use of drugs any kinda way with bigoted policies and we as a people let it happen because we generally don’t think they deserve better. Drug laws and policies are already known to have racist roots and the laws are enforced differently depending on the color of your skin. We all know white people get away with using and selling drugs in ways that would get us locked up forever. We don’t need research and news articles to tell us what we see with our own eyes. And it has changed how we think about and treat people in our own communities. Suddenly, he’s not your uncle or your neighbor. He’s dehumanized and turned into a “dope fiend” in your eyes. We’ve been fooled as a people by White supremacy to abandon whole people and forget about them. In my work, I’ve seen clients abandoned by their families: sometimes living right down the street and being outright ignored or some people never seeing their relatives again. We’ve been brainwashed into thinking chaotic substance use is a sign of moral failure or a sickness that means the lives of those Black people don’t matter anymore. The lack of community support is deadly for so many people because these kinds of social services for our own are usually 1 of first to get cut.

And because life ain’t simple, all this stigma is added by other types of bigotry. Many of the Black people who our communities have abandoned for chaotic drug use also happen to be LGBTQAI and/or are living with HIV. This isn’t a coincidence. We are all spoon-fed homophobia/homomisia from a young age. And the sex education in this country is made terrible on purpose. The same people in power who want you to think Black people are criminals and gay people ruin families also want you to be uneducated about sex and sexual health. It shocks me on the regular how many people don’t know the 4 body fluids that transmit HIV or don’t know what a “window period” is. But will seriously think you can get HIV from drinking a cup, sharing a bathroom, or that only gay people get HIV. Just loud and wrong. There is a reason they want you misinformed. Misinformation and racist laws/policies are DEADASS killing our communities. If we all actually knew the truth and used this knowledge to make informed decisions, we’d be stronger as a people. We are struggling as a people when we are willing to let each other die off some “Say No to Drugs” nonsense. Again, we are for real listening to values and policies created by the people who put drugs in our communities in the first place instead of healing ourselves.

The struggles that come with living with HIV and/or being LGBTQAI in a bigoted, ableist society adds to the burden of being Black. Not only are you dealing with a system that is killing you (if racist individuals don’t get to you first), many of your own people don’t even see you as a part of the community or as human. When someone tells you the same thing over and over again, you eventually believe them. If people are being told that they’re dirty, useless, sinners, lazy, will always be an addict, etc. over and over again, eventually they internalize that mess. There have been so many of my former clients who believe using drugs and having a history of “chaotic use” (again check my Drug Use post for a definition) means they “deserve” whatever people do to them or whatever dangerous policies/laws are passed. This sets up the environment for a cycle of poor mental health. Depressive, anxiety, trauma, etc. symptoms can be triggered and made worse by being exposed to bigotry and being abandoned by their families/communities. Living with systemic discrimination and prejudices can lead many people to cope with those psychological burdens with substance use. And that’s not even counting the lack of consistent quality medical care, systemic racism in medical and mental health spaces throughout history and now, and the lack of public health education/awareness available for many Black people. Ultimately, many Black people slip through the cracks and our communities are weaker for it. We talk about revolution, but how can we get free if so many in our communities are being left behind?

Where Do We Go From Here?

It’s time for us to look in the mirror. It’s time for us to start to heal as a community and unlearn all the lies. We gotta rebuild the bridges burnt down by believing in white supremacist lies about drug use. What can we all do to make sure people aren’t forgotten? Beyond laws and relying on people outside of our communities to make policy changes for us. Y’all know good and well that we can’t rely on this current political climate. So what can we do?

Some Suggestions:
  • Unlearn myths and stigmas about people who struggle with their drug use (Again, my intro to drug use piece is a great place to start).Where do those “crackhead” jokes come from? What values are they based in? Who taught you that? Are those values worth keeping? Once it really hits you that we as a society shame these victims of the War on Drugs while the ones who instigated it are still in power…the jokes are a lot less funny.

  • Give money, food, clothes, etc. to people who ask for help in real life and on crowdfunding apps. Why donate to companies when you can give directly to people?

  • Pro Bono services/volunteering – what skills do you have or what services you could provide for free to members of your community who need it?

  • Maybe you could reach out to abandoned family members and see what’s good with them (Again, boundaries and self care are important here).

It’s been so wild watching the media suddenly seem to find all this compassion for white people struggling with chaotic use of opioids. It’s a clear slap to the face after years of criminalization, judgment, and abandonment of our people. We need to let go of the biases and the lies we were told about drug use and people who have chaotic substance use. Leaving our own people behind because they use drugs to cope with whatever they’re going through is cruel. Black people have always been denied the same compassion and access to support and we have suffered as a result. We don’t get access to the same treatment professionals, methods or programs. Most of the time, we have to make due with barely the bare minimum. Now, imagine doing that when even other Black people don’t consider you to be fully human. When you’re not factored into the “coming together” or into the revolution plans. That stigma, on top of others like I mentioned before, leaves so many of our own incredibly vulnerable. We as a people will be stronger if we pushed the lies aside and had more compassion for people in our communities who are going through it. This is part of community building and part of revolutionary work.

Thanks for reading. The next post will be about socialization: what it is, and how it affects how people see themselves, other people, and the world.

How to Set Boundaries

Boundaries are the limits a person can set on what they will accept and how people treat them. Knowing how to set boundaries for yourself is one of the most important life skills to learn. In an ideal situation, your parents and/or the other adults in your life showed you how to set boundaries through their actions and words. Unfortunately, a lot of the time, this doesn’t happen. And setting boundaries becomes a skill that people spend most, if not all of their lives trying to figure out on their own. Basically like playing the same video game level over and over again, trying to learn this same lesson. Setting boundaries can be hard or even feel impossible. Especially if you are used to your boundaries being laughed at, ignored, pushed aside, or not even acknowledged (this is common in child emotional, physical, and/or sexual abuse, child neglect, intimate partner violence/domestic violence, systemic racism, etc.). People in these situations learn to live with the fear that if they set boundaries, even really small ones (like needing alone time or a safe space), they will be punished for it. In the face of danger and/or fear, people mainly talk about fight and flight, but another common response is not resisting. The person begins to belief that no resistance = no pain. This also happens on a society-level. Society sees marginalized people setting boundaries as rude. Having no boundaries allows people full access to you and oppressors feel entitled to the bodies, cultures, etc. of others. That’s why setting a boundary like kneeling for the National Anthem can cause so much outrage. Laws and society’s expectations respect the boundaries of certain people while dehumanizing others to many different degrees depending on race, gender, ability, etc. In this post, I’m going to talk about what boundaries do and how to start setting solid personal boundaries. Firm solid boundaries are so necessary for good mental and physical health, for interacting with the people in your life, and for community-building.

What Do Boundaries Do?

Setting boundaries is a way to take care of yourself and your emotional/psychological needs (Check out this post explaining self care). Firm boundaries protect people from emotional harm, burn out, feeling drained, etc. Like how the skin, skulls, rib cages, etc. protects important organs in our body. Setting boundaries is a part of having good mental health and living a more satisfying life. Making solid boundaries gives everyone involved the opportunity to make sure their emotional needs are taken care of and to continue to enthusiastically consent to dealing with a given person/situation. When you trust other people to respect your boundaries, there’s a freedom there. You feel more comfortable being relaxed and being yourself because you don’t need to worry about any threats. Also boundaries are not hard and fast rules. They change as you change and as your needs and the situation in your life changes. Boundaries are not about setting limits on other people’s behaviors. You can’t control other people. You can only change and control yourself. Boundaries are ultimately for you, not for other people. They are guidelines for yourself so you can figure out what’s best for you in each situation.

Examples of Phrases Used to Set Boundaries:

  • I already said No. I’m not repeating myself.
  • I don’t want to talk about this right now. Give me an hour.
  • If you keep doing this, I am going to leave/block you.

Notice that these boundaries focus on what you can do for yourself and your own behaviors. Again, boundaries aren’t about other people’s actions. Boundaries aren’t “You can’t say that so stop it”. That’s trying to control someone else’s behavior. What you can do is separate yourself from people: block them, stop doing business with them, stop giving them money, etc. Setting boundaries requires a realistic awareness of yourself and compassion towards your own psychological/emotional needs.

Some people have a hard time with setting boundaries due to feeling guilty or anxious. Like I mentioned before, someone feeling guilt and/or anxiety when setting boundaries could come from trauma and/or multiple experiences of people and society telling you that you don’t get to have respected boundaries. That right there is definitely grounds for self-reflection and/or working that out in therapy. Like I mentioned in the self-care post, taking care of mental and physical health is not selfish. You will be a stronger and happier person in the long run if you protect your whole body and self. And on the other hand, if you think other people setting boundaries is rude, it really says A LOT more about you than it does about the person setting the boundary. Self-reflection is important here. What is making you feel like you deserve access to this person in this way? Who are you really? Check that entitlement.

Setting Boundaries

I’ve noticed that many conflicts and issues come up because at the end of the day, many people don’t know how to set clear, firm personal boundaries. It can be hard for many people to know where to start. I’ll help.

Some tips for setting boundaries:
Start To Own It:

One place to start is coming to a place where you internalize and truly believe that you have just as much of a right to boundaries as anyone else. Trauma, etc. could have you feeling like you don’t need or deserve protection, but everybody will burn out after awhile without taking care of themselves. Wearing a coat in cold weather doesn’t make someone weak, lazy, or selfish and neither does taking care of your mental and emotional health.


Know yourself and your limitations. If you don’t know yourself, you’re not gonna be able to communicate that to someone else. For the record, having limits isn’t a bad thing. It’s a human thing. Nobody is limitless and knowing your personal limits is another way of taking care of yourself, prioritizing yourself, and helping yourself grow.

Try Mindfulness:

Being more mindful of yourself is very helpful in learning how to set firm boundaries. Finding the right mindfulness technique(s) for you can increase self-awareness, help you manage anger and/or cravings, make it easier to understand your own emotions, etc. Check out my post here on mindfulness for more information.

Ask For Help:

Individual or group therapy could help you work through the deeper things possibly going on for you. It isn’t wrong to need professional help with figuring out how to make setting clear, strong boundaries easier and managing any related emotions, thoughts, and/or traumas that may come along. People need backup. That’s real.

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve seen a situation turn sour between people because of paper-thin boundaries, my rent in NYC would be covered forever. For many people setting clear, firm boundaries is something that was never really taught. Boundaries don’t always feel nice, but they’re always necessary. Getting to a place where you really believe your mental, emotional, and physical health deserves to be protected and that you’re not weak, rude, etc. for setting boundaries is a struggle for many. Using self-reflection, mindfulness techniques, and/or therapy can help you learn your personal boundaries and be able to communicate them clearly to other people. Firm, clear boundaries will completely change your life and the way you engage with people at school, work, home, etc. And you will be in less and less complicated, vague situations if that’s not what you actually want.


Thanks for reading. The next post will be about the psychological impact of the War on Drugs on our communities.

You Probably Think This Kid Is About You Part 4

This is the 4th and final part of this 4-part parenting series. The first post covered your relationship with your partner or partners and whether it was a solid environment for raising children. The second post covered your personal feelings, thoughts, etc. around raising children, coping with stressful situations, and the importance of learning parenting skills (and ongoing therapy) before and while raising children. The third post covered your expectations of parenthood and the relationship you want to have with your child as they are growing up. In this 4th post, I am going to talk about the option of not raising children at all. Often having babies is pushed as the end all, be all, and I want to talk about other ways to build a family, have security, make accomplishments, and leave a legacy.

It’s OK to Not Want to Raise Kids
It’s OK to not want children right now. It’s even OK to never see that in your life plan at all. I know it’s rare to actually hear/see someone say that, but seriously, you don’t have to have kids. Children are a choice, not an obligation – No matter what everyone is telling you. There’s nothing morally wrong with you if you have other priorities. You’re not biologically broken because you just don’t want to go down that path. People with uteruses especially are constantly pressured and shamed for not wanting children and it amazes me how entitled people feel towards bodies that ain’t even theirs. Again, children are adults-in-training and their parents are their supervisors/trainers. And being a trainer is expensive. It costs energy, time, money, and resources. Nobody’s gonna have to carry that fetus for 9 months but y’all. Nobody’s gonna have to deal with the pain of labor, but y’all. Nobody’s gonna have to pay for hospital bills, diapers, day care, babysitters, etc. all before the child is 5, but y’all. And then there’s the cost of school, medical bills, and the emotional cost of raising a child in a bigoted world. No one will have to deal with all that and more, but y’all. And the way our society is, you won’t get that much help, if any at all. Child health insurance (CHIP) has been taken away, other social services are being cut from budgets, and people will shame you for starting up a gofundme for yourself. All this noise and pressure to have kids is followed by radio silence when you’re struggling to raise this child and need help. 

Do you (and your family) have the energy, time, money, and resources to raise children? And do you enthusiastically consent to spending a huge chunk of your energy, time, money, and resources on training a mini human on how to be grown 24/7? It’s okay if you would rather spend all that on something else. Like I’ve said before in this series, just like not everyone is meant to be a coach, teacher, trainer, supervisor, etc., not everyone is meant to be a parent. Everybody ain’t meant for every job. I’ve seen so many people have children because they feel that it was expected of them and they didn’t think they have other options. There are other options.

Other Options
One of the main reasons people say they have children is to build a legacy/continue their name. It’s very human to want to find that kind of immortality: to be remembered even after we’re dead. Throughout history, people have used raising children as a way to keep their names in people’s mouths. But like I talked about in Part 3, raising children ain’t about your personal life goals. It ain’t really about you and when you come at parenting like you’re doing something for yourself, it has an impact on your personal relationship with your child and your ability to guide them effectively. Something to reflect on: what is making you feel like you gotta use your child and their life so you can feel successful? Children are mini humans, not tools. And because they’re not mini-you and they’re not slaves, children are not guaranteed to be who you want them to be. You can have all the dreams and expectations for this child in the world and they can still grow up to be someone outside your expectations. And there’s nothing you can really do about that without damaging your relationship with them on some level. What’s the point of using all that energy, etc. to raise children just to push them away and have them resent you? 
Okay so kids can’t be used to build your legacy. What else can you do? Again, it’s totally human to want security for your and your family’s future, to want stability, and to want to feel successful/accomplished. At the end of the day though, you can’t control other people. But you can control yourself: What can you do in your own personal life to feel more fulfilled? What is missing in life for you? It’s never too late to find other ways to have some extra meaning in your life. Be open with yourself. Be realistic about your life, your current situation, and your limitations. Think about finances, your age, your energy level right now, physical and mental abilities, etc. to figure out what your next move could be. Focusing on yourself and growing yourself is probably gonna end up being more rewarding than putting all your hopes and dreams on children who might just do whatever. 
  • Making time for some hobbies
  • Taking free and/or low cost classes and workshops about something interesting
  • Joining online groups and forums to learn and/or find community
  • Volunteering to work with youth and/or with families
  • Starting a new career involving children, if you love nurturing children, but they don’t fit into your personal life
  • Building close relationships with your extended family – being the best aunt, uncle, godparent, etc. you can be
  • Fostering teens: Maybe raising children wouldn’t work for you, but fostering a teenager would
Another reason people say they have children is to avoid being old and dying alone. It’s interesting to me how choosing to not have kids is somehow seen as damning yourself to being a lonely old person. It says a lot about how society sees children and how many people prioritize the relationships in our lives. Again, children are not slaves, born to be your home health aide when you’re old. And like I said before, there is no guarantees that your child will take care of you when you’re old (See Part 3 for more on this). Beyond that, where are your friends and other loved ones? It’s very Western, very colonizer, to rely on a nuclear family (spouse and kids) for everything. Our ancestors were community-minded (I’ll probably write a whole post about this in the future). Build your community of loved ones and other people you trust so y’all can support each other over the years. You don’t have to “die alone”. You and your squad could build a supportive chosen family together, live together, share finances, check in on each other’s health, etc. There are so many other ways to build and customize a life that truly fulfills you.
I want people to live life with more self-awareness. Know yourself. Just because something is expected of you, doesn’t mean it is the best fit for your life. Reflect on your personal feelings and expectations around having children. Think about what you are bringing to the table as the child’s parent. Look at your relationship and your family unit. Is this a stable, safe environment to raise a child in? What needs/wishes/desires do you think raising a child would satisfy for you? And what could be some other options for satisfying those needs? Because at the end of the day, raising children is about the children, not you. It’s about nurturing a future generation and training someone on how to be grown so they can live their best life, whatever that looks like for them. 
Thanks for reading. The next post about how to set boundaries will be published on Sunday 8/12/18. 

Polyamory 101: What is Polyamory?

Since I’m noticing more and more people interested in relationship alternatives to monogamy on social media, I decided to write about polyamory from the perspective of a relationship counselor. First, I’m going to get into what polyamory is, how it’s different from monogamy, cheating, open relationships, and swinging, and the different ways someone can be polyamorous depending on their needs. Then I’m going to talk about how to get into polyamory (as a single individual & as people in an ongoing relationship) from the perspective of a relationship counselor. This post is designed to share basic information about polyamory and to generally help people start to think about their own experiences in relationships and what their needs/wants are.

Before I get into polyamory, I want to make sure we’re all on the same page with what certain words and concepts mean. And I want to make sure that y’all can see what polyam (short for polyamory) clearly is as compared to some other ways of doing the whole relationship thing. Relationships are ways of being connected with one another. There are many different ways to connect with 1 or more people and usually we sort out different types of relationship by how it looks (the structure) and what’s going on between people in the relationship (the dynamics). Humans are generally social creatures on some level. Some people need more social time than others, but generally, we tend to enjoy the company of others in many different ways. We have many different kinds of relationships going on in our lives: family relationships, friendships, coworkers, acquaintances, classmates, homeboy at the bodega, the plug, the barber/hair stylist/braider, baby mommas, exes who you still talk to, lovers, partners, etc. With many different structures and dynamics. We make different kinds of commitments depending on the situation and depending on the dynamics/vibes, etc. in that relationship. You’re not gonna promise your barber a 5-ever love, but you are gonna commit to being in that chair at least 2x/month for as long as that hand is steady.

Different Types of Relationships:

Monogamy: Monogamy (if we’re going by the book here) is when 2 people (structure) decide to be sexually and romantically exclusive with each other (dynamics). This is the type of relationship that we are all pushed by society into trying to conform to. Just like we all are pushed to conform to being cisgender (Google it if you don’t know what this means) and straight. As if everyone is the same. As if everyone loves, dates, and/or has sex the same way (if at all). People don’t even eat grits or rice the same way. There’s no way 1 relationship structure/dynamics style is going to be a comfortable fit for everyone.

NOTE: Other relationships are non-monogamous because they involve partners being sexually connected to others on some level (swinging and open relationships) and/or being romantically connected to others (polyamory).

Swinging: Swinging is when a couple that was previously monogamous decides they want to have sex with single people and other couples, called swingers. This usually happens at swinging parties or privately where all the partners can see and/or are aware this is happening. Other than having sex with other people, the couple is romantically exclusive with each other. Meaning the other connections are only sexual. They are dating and in a relationship with just each other.

Open Relationships: A couple decides to have sex with and maybe date other people outside of that main relationship. They can have sex with people together and/or separately. They can date people together and/or separately. It depends on what each couple agrees on. However, those sexual partners and dates tend to come second to the main relationship.

NOTE: None of this is polyamory. At the end of the day, in all of these relationships styles, there is only 1 actual relationship. There is 1 main relationship, like a main character in a movie and everyone else is an always uncommitted extra.

Polyamory: A polyamorous person is someone who can date, commit to, and/or love more than 1 person. It’s different from the other relationship styles I mentioned before because it does not focus only on sex and/or dating.Polyamory involves being in multiple relationships with multiple people. Building connections, feelings, and commitments with more than 1 person. Each relationship looks different depending on the situation and on the needs of the people in each relationship. In polyam, none of the relationships are secret. Every relationship has its boundaries and commitments depending on what the people in the relationship(s) want.

Ok, So Explain To Me Like I’m 2 How This Ain’t Just Cheating?

Cheating is when someone breaks the commitments in their relationship. Most people focus on sexual cheating, but there other ways to break trust. Cheating happens in non-monogamous relationships too. Cheating can involve lying, hiding pieces of information, breaking promises, etc. The main difference between having sex and/or dating outside of a relationship and cheating is honesty and clear communication. If you feel like you have to lie or hide something from a partner in any kind of relationship, something is wrong. Cheating and breaking commitments in relationships are violations regardless of how many people you’re dating. Serial cheating is emotional abuse and opening up your relationship or even becoming polyamorous will not stop a partner from cheating. Non-monogamous relationships are not a consolidation prize for monogamous partners who have given up or a muzzle to keep people who cheat from hurting their partners. If they can’t handle 1 commitment without breaking it, they are not gonna be able to juggle more than 1. At that point, you would be dragging innocent bystanders into your mess and that’s not fair.

How Do You Wanna Do This Polyam Thing?

There are actually many different ways to date people polyamorously. Just like any other relationship, it really depends on the situation and the needs/wants of everybody involved. To figure out what would work for you, it’s important to think about what you need in terms of the dynamics and structure in relationships.

Dynamics: Do You Want a Hierarchy in Your Relationships or Nah?

Primary/secondary aka hierarchical polyamory:

The primary relationship is the main one while other relationships work around that main. Someone can have more than 1 primary relationship and more than 1 secondary relationship. Primary relationships are usually given priority over the other relationships. People who prefer primary/secondary relationship structures tend to give their primary partners more responsibilities and commitments. In many hierarchical polyam relationships, the primary partners have some level of influence and/or control over the secondary relationships. Secondary relationships are like smaller plants having to grow around a larger plant. A more obvious example of the kind of power primary relationships can have is called veto power. A veto in hierarchical polyamory is when a primary partner can “veto” or end their partner’s relationship with another person, usually a secondary partner. A veto is partner’s ability to end a relationship that they aren’t involved in because they (for whatever reason) do not want their primary partner dating that other person. In hierarchical polyam, the primary relationships are always given top priority.

Non-hierarchical polyamory:

1 romantic relationship doesn’t have power over any of the others and all relationships have the equal room to grow ideally without any influence from other relationships. In non-hierarchical polyam, each relationship is separate from each other. No one has veto power and no can dictate what goes on in a relationship that they’re not in themselves. Partners have equal power/say in their own relationships despite any differences in commitments, responsibilities, etc. in each relationship.

Structure: What Kinds of Relationship Structures/Shapes are Interesting to You?

  • Vee or V: When 1 person is dating 2 people who are not dating each other. [Example: Person A is dating Person B. Person A is also dating Person C. Person B and Person C are not dating.]

  • Triad: When 3 people are dating each other. [Example: Person A, Person B, and Person C are all dating.]

  • Quad: A relationship of 4 people. [All 4 people could be dating each other. Or 2 couples could decide to date each other. 1 person could be dating 3 people, etc. There are many different ways 4 people can come together and make commitments to each other.]

  • Polyfidelity: A group of people who only date each other. The group agrees to only be romantically exclusive (and possibly sexually exclusive if there is sex in the relationship) with each other and keep the relationship closed to new partners. [Example: Triads and quads can practice polyfidelity, keeping all the commitment/love in the group.]

  • Solo/single polyamory: 1 person having multiple separate relationships with others, outside of a primary/secondary hierarchy, and usually prioritizing their autonomy/independence. Solo poly people tend to not organize their lives around romantic partners. They don’t identify as a part of a couple, triad, quad, etc., and tend to value their individual identities/sense of self over seeing building a life with others as a main life goal. Many solo polyam people refer to themselves as their own primary partner as another way to describe how they prioritize themselves.

  • And More…the options for relationship structures are basically limitless.

How Do I Get Into Polyamory?

Learning about and getting into polyamory can seem like a lot so I tried to simplify this as much as possible:

Do Some Homework

If you’re serious about this lifestyle change, it’s time to put in work. Read books (here and here are good starts) and articles about polyamory. Go to events, etc. Get that knowledge. Once you feel like you have a solid idea of what polyamory is and what it can look like, it’s time to figure out if it’s right for you. This is where self-reflection, talking to people you trust, and/or talking to a therapist if you have one is important. It’s that serious. You are learning new ways to think about relationships and new ways to date/love. You don’t need to rush into this. Learn enough about yourself that you can communicate your wants/needs clearly and in detail to other people.Practice having clear communication with the non-sexual and non-romantic people (friends, family, acquaintances, coworkers, etc.) in your life. Managing these other relationships in your life and nurturing them is good practice for managing multiple romantic/sexual partners.

Self-Reflection for Each Individual

Taking the time to know yourself and your needs/wants (and not who you’re expected to be or who you wish you were) will save you so much time, energy, and pain. Think about your needs in a relationship and the reasons leading you to make this change. Think about your relationship history (what you liked and didn’t like, regrets, successes, etc.) and how your history affects your choices now. Think about any worries or concerns you might have about making this change. Or anything you aren’t sure about. It’s better to think about this and figure this out now before you start trying a new way of dating.

And remember this isn’t all about you. This is also about the people you will be dating in the future and their feelings. What would you be bringing to the table for each relationship? Look at your life. Take stock of the situation. How much energy do you have for each relationship? Polyam relationships involve a lot of effort: clear communication even when it’s awkward, planning, honesty, actively working through your personal feelings of jealousy…with more than 1 person. Half-stepping isn’t an option for successful polyamorous relationships. If you don’t have the energy or time for multiple relationships, polyam isn’t for you. There are other kinds of non-monogamy options if you have time for sex and/or casual dating, but not relationships. Be realistic and honest with yourself, your needs, and your situation here and now.

Self-Reflection as an Already Established Relationship

You want to get into polyamory and you’re already a part of a couple. I’m assuming you already talked about your mutual interest in polyam with your partner and you’re both on the same page. If the BOTH of you aren’t on the same page, the BOTH of you aren’t polyamorous. That’s cheating. Enthusiastic consent is absolutely necessary in polyam. If you both aren’t really excited to try this, your experiment into non-monogamy will fail. There’s no such thing as reluctant polyamory. Coercing/pushing easily leads to resentment, abuse, etc. If you want to explore polyam and your current partner wants to stay monogamous, you can only control yourself and your behavior, not your partner’s. You, at that point, would have to decide if you want to stay in a monogamous relationship with this partner or end the relationship to explore polyamory. And again, if you are only trying polyam under the false idea it will stop a partner, who has cheated, from breaking any more commitments, your experiment with polyamory will fail. Polyamory, again, is multiple relationships. If a partner can’t commit to 1 relationship, they can’t commit to more than 1. Now, they’ll just have more commitments to break and more people to cheat on.

Now, I’m assuming the both of you are excited and ready to see what polyam is about. There are definitely some things for y’all to reflect on as a couple. Polyamory isn’t something to try to add spice to your current relationship. Other people’s lives and feelings are involved now. That would be using people like objects and no one likes being used without their consent. While you’re reading and reflecting on your feelings, wants, and needs, talk to your partner about what kind of relationship you would want to have together. Reflect honestly on how you both deal with change and/or stressful situations as a couple in the past.Reflect on your ability to evolve your relationship together as people and situations change. Talking about this honestly now in the beginning will do wonders and it teaches the both of you the kind of communication that is necessary for successful ethical non-monogamy.

Learning a whole new way of connecting in love and relationships is not easy. You gotta really reflect and honestly dig deep on what interests you about polyam and how you think it will benefit your life. Learn more about polyam – read books/articles, watch videos, and go to events/socials to meet polyam people. Again, don’t rush this. Make sure that polyamory will do for you what you think it will. Having realistic expectations of what polyamory is like and the kind of work/effort you have to do in these kinds of relationships are important. Knowing what you are looking for is also important. Not just for you, but also so you can explain your needs to others. Reflect on your communication skills and how you are with setting firm boundaries. These skills are very important in monogamous relationships and are much more essential when dating multiple people and managing multiple relationships. Know yourself. At the end of the day, it’s hard to have any kind of relationship without a strong sense of who you are and your needs.

Thanks for reading. The next post will be the 4th and final part of the 4-part parenting series: You So Vain: You Probably Think This Kid is About You on 7/22/18. It’s going to cover the option of not having children at all and other ways to support the next generation, create a family, have security, and build your legacy/accomplishments without raising children if that’s not something that fits the reality of your life.

You Probably Think This Kid Is About You Part 3: Looking At Expectations

This is the 3rd part of a 4-part parenting series. The first post covered your relationship with your partner or partners and whether it was a solid environment for raising children. The second post covered your personal feelings, thoughts, etc. around having/raising children, coping with stressful situations, and the importance of learning parenting skills and ongoing therapy before and while raising children. In this post, I want to talk about your expectations of parenthood and the relationship you want to have with your child as they are growing up. What are your expectations? How do you see the role of parent? How do you see the role of child? What is the purpose of children? What are your responsibilities as a parent? Try to come at this series with an open mind and heart. I want to encourage self-reflection here and walk y’all through how one can figure out if having children is a good fit for them and their life. And if you already have children, this is more of a how to check in with yourself and see where there’s room for growth and improvement.

Set The Scene

I wanna help y’all start to think about the expectations you have about parenting. Start to explore how you think raising children is supposed to go. Who is this all for? Is having this baby for you, for your partner, for the relationship (to take it to “the next level”) or for the baby? Once you can honestly figure out who you’re doing this for, it will be easier to figure out how you think parenting is supposed to go. As I said in previous parts of this parenting series, having a baby won’t make you feel better about yourself. Having a baby won’t fix the problems in your relationship. That’s what it definitely won’t do. Again, having babies and raising children are stressful. This is an obligation and a responsibility. It is a full time job. Let’s talk about what a baby definitely will do though. Adding a baby to an unstable relationship is going to be make the relationship more unstable. And it hurts the child. Babies are not made to love you. Babies are not made to make you feel a way. Intentional adults raise children because they feel ready to take on the extra responsibility of training little humans on how to become grown adults.

Despite what society and the people around you say: having kids isn’t about the person you’re with, the relationship you’re in, your feelings, and/or your personal life goals. And I get it, there’s all this pressure to have children from everyone. It’s what everyone says you’re supposed to be working towards. I see on twitter all the time: “If you haven’t had kids by now (mid-20s to 30s), what’s stopping you?” without considering if people are ready for kids or if they want them. Questions like that put people, especially cisgender heterosexual (aka cishet) women, on the defensive because now they have to justify themselves and their choices. All this constant pressure. And someone is always there to make it seem like your life wouldn’t be complete without babies. Being real and true…it’s interesting how there’s all this pressure to have children, but once you have kids, you’re expected to do everything by yourself. And you will be shamed (“Oh you need money, help with childcare, etc.? Smh. Why did you have kids then?!”) for asking for help.

Everyone is expected to live up to the same expectations, goals, and values. Going along with what people say you should do when it’s not right for you is…a personal decision. But you deciding to bring another life into the world means that life isn’t just about you anymore. Now your decisions can affect at least 2 people. Do whatever you want to do to yourself, but forcing a baby (who will grow to be a whole adult) into a situation that isn’t stable and/or safe is potentially neglectful and abusive. If you ain’t ready, you ain’t ready. Society and the people pressuring you to have children just want cute pics and feel good moments. They don’t know you and your situation. But you can know you though. Take an honest look at yourself, your situation, and your expectations to see what kind of child care situation you’d be ready for (if any).

Society isn’t the only thing influencing how you look at parenting. How your parents handled their relationships with you as you grew up can have a huge effect on how you see children and on what raising children means to you. Your parents/guardians/the adults that raised you had a huge impact on how you see the world in general, but definitely on how you view the relationship between parents and kids. They were the 1st relationship you ever had. The 1st people you had to learn how to trust. The relationships you had/have with them influence you on some level. That’s how you can find yourself saying and doing some of the same things your parents did. Like I talked about in the corporal punishment/humiliation series, the decisions/actions of parents can have long term effects on the child even when they grow into adults. Many people are still dealing with the emotional, physical, and psychological effects of their parents’ decisions. Like I said before, you’re making decisions for more than just you the moment you decide you want to raise a child.

Role Call

How do you see the role of parent? Meaning what purpose do parents have? What do parents do in your opinion? Many people grew up in a household with parents who saw themselves as unquestioned leaders. A “my way or the highway” kind of parent. Parents with this idea of parenting expect compete obedience in exchange for providing you with your basic needs. Other people see the main role of parents as caregivers and caring for the child’s physical and emotional needs is a huge priority for them. Parents need to make personal sacrifices to provide as safe and stable a home and childhood as realistically possible. Also as full time coaches/trainers, parents prepare the child for their future. Much of your job as a parent involves actively preparing your child to be a grown adult and walking the walk so your child has someone to show them the way. Actions speak louder than words here.

How do you see the role of child? What is the purpose of children? More often than not, people see kids as extensions of parents and not as individuals or as adults-in-training. Because most people see children as just another thing they have to do before they die (somewhere after marriage, but before retirement), kids are expected to fit into the world of parents. Especially once children are old enough to walk and speak, they are expected to be seen and not heard because children shouldn’t get in the way of the either parent’s life plans. To say it real blunt: People are generally encouraged to treat their children like accessories to show off their personal achievement in the world. And that’s so much pressure for both parents and their children. All these expectations before your child can even decide what they want to do with their life. Parents are trainers/coaches. A trainer’s job isn’t to live vicariously through their trainee. A coach’s job isn’t to push the athlete into doing something because it makes the coach feel comfortable or because it makes the coach look good. Trainers that only focus on themselves and not on developing the skills and interests of the athletes are trash trainers. Those athletes probably wouldn’t be as prepared as athletes with trainers who got to know them as individuals and trained them how to be the best versions of themselves. How you see the relationship with your child and how you come at the relationship affects how you will treat them, your relationship with them, how they feel about you, and how they feel about themselves and the world. No exaggeration. This 1st relationship is a big deal. If you come at this like your child is a tool to be used or something to show off, that definitely sets a tone. Versus coming at the relationship like you are open to learning about this new person and open to coaching them into adulthood.

Another common role I hear people assign to their children is future home health aide: many people at least claim to have children so “someone will be there to take care of me when I’m old”. Many people want children who will obey them without question without thinking about the long term effects on the parent/child relationship as long as they get a free built-in home health aide when they get sick. Remember what I said in the corporal punishment post? If the only kind of behavior you have modeled for your children is powerful vs powerless, weak vs strong, do what I say no questions asked…what happens when the roles are reversed? I never understood the logic of having children to force them to become caretakers AND not bothering to build a close, honest relationship with them. Again, have you prepared this adult-in-training for the real world? What happens to this now grown adult once you die? And remember, children aren’t young children forever. How do your responsibilities as a parent/trainer change as they get older? Parenting is a full time job that requires a lot of sacrifice. How do you plan on changing to meet these needs? They are the child. You are the parent. This isn’t a “they have to meet me halfway” kind of situation. You have to do most of the work because you are the adult and you are their guardian. If this sounds intense, it’s because it is.

Even Trainers Need Training

I’ve talked about how game-changing therapy and parenting skills classes can be in the Part 2 from the perspective of a counselor assisting people with coming to terms with their own personal feelings, fears, etc. around being a parent. Good parenting skills classes also teach child development so parents can learn how brains grow, what children are physically and psychologically able to do at each stage in their life, and how to speak to children in a way their child brains can understand. Many people, including our parents, were just winging it and didn’t have an understanding of the child human brain. How many times do you see a parent fussing at or yelling at a young child to sit still for an hour or more? Or yelling at them to not ask for something shiny or sweet in the store? Young children can’t do that. They literally not mentally there yet. They don’t even fully understand what they’re being punished for. And remember, shaming/corporal punishment (I wrote about this before: part 1 and part 2 don’t even work and can cause future psychological issues and violent behavior.

Again, a parenting skills course would teach you other ways of child care. And if you think parenting skills classes would be “white people shit” and not sensitive to your specific cultural concerns/issues, look for classes, trainings, and/or books written by licensed, certified, and/or degreed professional therapists, social workers, psychiatrists, researchers, doctors, etc. of color. Check their credentials and make sure their degrees and/or licenses are in the same subject as what they’re teaching you. A degree in business, law, marketing or fine arts doesn’t make the person qualified to talk to you about child development and/or psychology. Also check their work experience. Degrees and licenses are great, but also how much direct experience doing research with or working as a therapist with our communities do these people have? Do they have experience working with people who look and live like you? And what is their reputation in the community? As I’ve said before, raising children and training them on how to be grown is hard work. It’s a full time job and even trainers need support. Trainers need training to do their job right. No one wants a supervisor that just wings it all the time. It sucks that you didn’t receive better, but you can definitely do better.

Thanks for reading. The next post will cover what polyamory is and how to get into polyamory (as a single individual & as people in an ongoing relationship) from the perspective of a relationship counselor.

Drug Use: When is it a Problem?

It’s amazing to me how much misinformation there is out there about drugs and substance use. Especially when there are so many people who use some kind of drug/substance every single day. I’m writing this post to explain 1)the basics of what drugs are, 2)some reasons people use them, 3)the different types of drug use, and 4)how to tell when substance use (not necessarily a problem) may be turning into a substance use disorder (harmful to self and the people who depend on you).

Substance use and substance use disorders are 2 specialities of my clinical/counseling work and I work from a harm reduction philosophy/approach to therapy. Abstinence and harm reduction are 2 ways of looking at substance use issues. Abstinence as a philosophy is basically “Just Say No”. It’s traditionally the view that the only way to deal with substance use problems is by never using or by totally stopping using drugs/substances. Abstinence as a philosophy is not particularly interested in asking people to reflect on why they use the way they do. Abstinence as a philosophy instead tells people why they use (moral failures, weakness, addiction as a disease, etc.) and then tells them to stop using drugs. It can be an effective strategy depending on the person and the situation, but doesn’t work for everyone or every situation so it shouldn’t be the only solution. “Just stop using” can be too basic for people’s complicated lives. Harm reduction works from the idea that people have complicated relationships to drugs and abstinence is not the only solution to struggling with substance use. Sometimes abstinence (the specific act of not using a given drug, not the philosophy) is the answer.  And harm reduction recognizes “no use” as 1 of many options. Harm reduction sees substance use problems as a public health issue (instead of a moral/character failure or a disease). Harm reduction strategies uses empathy and compassion to work together with people on how to realistically be healthy, safe, and well on their terms.

Harm reduction also takes the approach that people have been using drugs for different reasons since the beginning of time and are going to keep using drugs. Shaming people, stopping them from getting jobs, taking away their homes, locking them up in labor camps…I mean prisons…obviously doesn’t do anything to stop people from using (the drug game is alive and well, even in prisons). What all these policies really do is cause harm and human suffering without actually getting to the heart of the issue. What works is working together with people and, if they want to change, helping them figure out how to change how they see, think about, and use each of their drugs on their own terms. Harm reduction is also about giving people accurate and unbiased information so they can make their own choices. And through information giving and collaboration, harm reduction is another way to help people become more self-aware about their use and to become more curious about themselves and how they act.

So What Are Drugs?

A drug is a something that changes how your central nervous system (your brain and brain stem) works. Any substance outside your body, that changes your brain chemistry when you use it, is a drug. Examples of drugs are coffee, cigarettes, alcohol, Celexa, marijuana, cocaine, Oxycontin, poppers, Klonopin, etc. These are all drugs because they change your brain once you take them. In the US, drugs are arbitrarily broken up into categories like legal vs illegal, medicine vs not medicine, recreational/part of society vs something to be ashamed of. But these categories weren’t created based on actual knowledge and research. They are based in stigma and prejudice. It’s always assumed that people who use stigmatized/shamed drugs are illogical, but people use all drugs for a reason. And usually these are logical reasons that actually make sense when you sit down and listen to people. The fact is, drugs work and people tend to choose the drugs (legal and otherwise) that best fit their brain chemistry and the experiences they are looking for.

Here are some reasons ppl use drugs:

For fun/to get intoxicated

(Let’s not even front here, y’all.)

As a part of cultural, social, and/or religious rituals
  • Champagne at New Years Eve
  • Ayahuasca ceremonies
  • Marijuana in the Rastafarian religion
  • Wine in communion/eucharist in Protestant and Catholic Christian faiths
During social settings and/or to build community
  • Going to a bar with coworkers
  • A professional/networking “function” serving alcohol
  • Sharing a cigarette and smoking outside together
As medicine and to cope with life (prescribed by a Dr or self-medicated)
  • Smoking marijuana to cope with social anxiety before going out
  • Having beer or some wine after work to de-stress
  • Taking antidepressants every day for depressive symptoms
  • Taking prescribed stimulants (Adderall) or unprescribed stimulants (cocaine) to treat ADHD symptoms

What Is Drug Use?

In my clinical work, I see drug use as a person’s specific relationship to each drug. It’s easier to talk about substance use and figure out options this way. This perspective allows us to do some digging and look at all the reasons why people use drugs. Then it’s easy to see how people can develop a bond, create good memories around, and feel emotions towards the substances in their lives. Especially if it’s a part of your culture or if it’s a substance that you have been using for a long time. This drug could have literally saved your life at one point. It could have comforted you. It could remind you of family gatherings, the playoffs, or chilling with your close friends. And everyone is different. Everyone has a different brain/brain chemistry, has different genetics, grew up in different environments, and has different life experiences. Each drug is going to affect each person differently. Each relationship with each drug is going to be different. And each relationship is complicated. 1 drug can cause some problems and fix other problems at the same time. Just like a relationship with another person can be complicated.

In their book, “Over the Influence: Second Edition: The Harm Reduction Guide to Controlling Your Drug and Alcohol Use” by Patt Denning and Jeannie Little, they talk about the different types of use/relationships that people tend to have with drugs. Learning the different types of relationships and being able to label one’s relationships to drugs begins to take away the stigma/shame that comes with drug use. And it sheds light on the misinformation and myths surrounding drug use and when use can become a problem. The relationships to drugs they describe in the book are: No use, Experimental use, Occasional use, Regular use, Heavy use, and Chaotic use.

No Use:

Not using now or never used a particular drug

Experimental Use:

Experimenting with it a few times because you’re curious

Occasional Use:

Using the drug occasionally without a pattern

Example: Drinking during the holidays or using poppers sometimes when you have sex

Regular Use:

Using a drug on a regular basis to the point that it’s become part of a routine and there’s a pattern

Example: Smoke weed every night after work or snort coke every weekend at parties

Heavy Use:

Using a drug more than you probably should, depending on your health and social norms

Example: You have diabetes and drink a couple beers a night. Technically not a lot, but because of your diabetes, even that little bit of beer puts your health at risk

Example: You could be physically dependent on coffee. Need to drink it everyday at the same times or you’ll get headaches, irritable, and can’t focus

Example: Smoking weed or cigarettes when you have asthma or COPD

Chaotic use:

A heavy use that the person cannot control and their entire life is controlled or revolves around using that drug (what is usually called “addiction”)

Example: Losing your job or not being able to pay rent because you are spending your time and money getting, using, and/or recovering from using drugs

Examples of how the different types of relationships to different drugs can look over time:
Example: Person A
  • Has a history of chaotic use with alcohol
  • Never used crack
  • Experimented 1x or 2x with Molly
  • Smokes marijuana regularly everyday after work

Example: Person B

  • Regularly sniffed a bag of heroin daily after work for years while keeping a job
  • Retired at age 67 and heroin use became chaotic without the job schedule and when the person couldn’t pay bills anymore
  • Went to substance use treatment and now is abstinent from heroin
Example: Person C
  • Experimented with marijuana, Molly, and Lean a few times in college
  • Occasionally takes Xanax (without a prescription) before going on planes
  • Heavy use of alcohol to fall asleep at night despite some issues waking up in the morning for work

Like I said before, a person’s relationships to drugs can be very complicated. Someone can have a history of chaotic use with 1 drug and need to stop using that 1 drug forever, but is able to function on other drugs. And even those relationships to drugs can change over the years. A relationship with a drug can start off stable, become chaotic, and then through treatment/hard work become stable again. Some people have used substances and never developed a chaotic relationship to any substance. Again, this is why awareness (I think I talk about this in some way in every post) is so necessary.

How Do I Know When My Use Is A Problem?

So how do you know when your use is becoming chaotic? In the Diagnostic Statistical Manual, 5th edition (the manual used by mental health professionals to diagnose mental disorders), chaotic use is described under “substance use disorders”. There are many different types of substance use disorders in the DSM 5, including alcohol use disorder, opioid use disorder, etc.), but all use disorders basically have similar core 11 symptoms (and only 2 is needed to be diagnosed a use disorder):

  1. Using more of the drug than planned for longer than you meant to
  2. You keep wanting to stop or trying to stop, but fail
  3. Spending a lot of time getting, using or recovering from the effects of the drug
  4. Cravings
  5. Using the drug has start to negatively affect obligations at home, work, or school
  6. You keep using drugs even though it’s messing with your relationships with people
  7. You drop the things/activities you used to like to use more of the drug
  8. You keep using drugs even if it’s physically dangerous/risky
  9. You keep using drugs even if it has caused a physical/mental health problem or using drugs has made your health worse
  10. You develop a tolerance: you need more and more of the drug to get high because the same amount is affecting you less and less over time
  11. You start going through withdrawal (get sick) if you take a break from using and you try to avoid withdrawal

Again, the substance use disorder diagnosis is another way to talk about chaotic use. One way to tell the difference between using drugs and having a substance use disorder is using 3 out of the 4 Ds (1st mentioned in my depression post here): Distress, danger, and dysfunction, (deviance is not useful here because of the stigma put on certain drug use and certain people).

Does your drug use (and your relationship to the specific drug) cause you distress? Does your drug use put you in danger? Does your drug use affect your ability to function: pay bills, go to work/school, etc.? Working from a harm reduction philosophy, I don’t care if a client is using drugs as long as the specific drug they are using is not causing them distress, doesn’t put them/their health danger, and doesn’t change their ability to pay their bills/successfully go to work, school, etc. And I want to separate distress caused by 1) society stigmatizing certain types of drug use over others…versus 2)someone feeling upset because of the effects naturally caused by their choices.

Example 1: Feeling distress because of unfair drug laws that prevent people from working, receiving housing, and/or having custody of their children even if the person’s use is not chaotic and the person could reasonably take care of all their obligations. This is a man-made problem, created by society. It’s related to systemic racism or classism and is not a problem that the individual created themselves. Their distress is in response to the punishment that society is unfairly inflicting on them.

Example 2: Feeling distress because their chaotic use is preventing them from paying rent and keeping an apartment. This distress is directly related to their substance use disorder.

So I’ve explained what drugs are, the different types of substance use, and the difference between using drugs and having a substance use disorder. So at this point, you might be wondering: Ok so how can I tell if my use right now is becoming a problem? Not everybody has a copy of the DSM 5 just chilling in their home. I get it. But what many of us do have is internet access. Use these free online drug use screenings to see if you need to start slowing down your use or seek treatment. Assessing your own use/relationship to the drug or drugs in your life before it starts to become chaotic is important (similar to how you’d check in on the relationships you have with the people in your life from time to time). Two short, easy to take questionnaires that I can recommend for y’all are the Drug Abuse Screening Test (DAST-10) and Michigan Alcohol Screening Test (MAST). Both are available for free with a quick Google search. If your assessment results say that you need to “reassess later” or have a low-level problem, that would be a sign to consider slowing down your use. If your results say you are experiencing moderate to severe difficulties due to your drug use, you may have a substance use disorder. Consider looking into treatment including 1-on-1 psychotherapy.

Using drugs isn’t a problem. When your use starts to become chaotic, that’s when it’s time to be concerned. Chaotic substance use is a symptom of a larger problem and again, this is a public health issue. Society creates problems for itself when it criminalizes health issues instead of dealing with the root causes. I hope this post helps you reflect on your own relationships with legal and illegal substances and create relationships with drugs that work for you.

Thanks for reading. The next post on 6/24/18 will be Part 3 of the 4-Part parenting series, focusing on parents’ expectations of parenthood and thinking about the kind of relationship you want to have with your child as they grow up.

You Probably Think This Kid Is About You Part 2: Getting Personal

This is part 2 of a 4-Part series. Check out Part 1 here where I write from the point of view of a therapist in a relationship counseling situation, helping people in a romantic relationship work through the idea of having children together. In this second part, I want to focus on the individuals in the relationship. This is where IRL I’d ask to meet with the relationship clients for 1-on-1 sessions. This post will focus on 1) your personal feelings, thoughts, and fears around having/raising children, 2) how you personally cope with stressful situations, and 3) the importance of learning parenting skills and ongoing therapy before and while raising children.

Y’all Ready To Be Real With Me?

This society loves to focus on the joys and excitement of having babies and raising children (except teens, who are stereotyped as being difficult). Whenever people talk about having babies, they are all encouraged to focus on the highlights: bringing the baby home, the first tooth/steps/birthdays, first day of school…*fast forward*…the kids grow up to love and take care of the parents when they’re old. That’s not the whole story. That’s like wanting to try out a recipe, but only getting the ingredients, the cooking time, and a picture of the end result. Nah, where’s the directions on how to cook it? What temperature do you preheat the oven for? How are you supposed to chop this? You’re not being given enough information and because of that, your expectations of parenting/cooking aren’t accurate. And we all know making decisions without having all the necessary information isn’t the move. Like I always say, awareness is key. Awareness saves lives and time. You can’t get rid of feelings so you might as well face them. Bottled up and/or ignored feelings come out in other ways, but they never go away. Bottled up feelings can turn into physical symptoms (headaches, stomach aches, feeling tired all the time, feeling tense all the time, high blood pressure, etc.) and that’s not good for your health in the long run. Or bottled up feelings can look like taking your frustrations out on other people or drinking them away. Whether through psychotherapy (To help you get started, check out the resources I listed in the “How to Know If/When You’re Depressed” post) and/or other strategies like mindfulness (See the “What Can Mindfulness Do For You?” post for more information on the many different ways to try mindfulness), building/strengthening/maintaining self-awareness is an incredibly important part of any relationship, especially parenting.

As I’ve said before children are adults-in-training and parenting is like being the supervisor. You are actively training a human on how to be an adult. They watch what you say, what you do, your body language, the things you hint at without saying, etc. and they use all that information as their manual in the real world. It does not hurt to be as aware as possible of who you are and how you act. Like I said before, many people struggle with situations/issues that could have been handled better if they were more aware of their feelings and behaviors. There’s value in knowing what specifically about something is making you react like that or feel that way. Especially when raising children. Here are a couple of personal feelings/beliefs that should be dealt with preferably before having children (if you already have children then the sooner the better):

  • Fear: Fear is something that few people talk about when pressuring other people to have children. No one ever says, “So when are you having kids? I remember the times I cried and was stressed all night…” Everyone is so encouraged to feel joy that other emotions are silenced and even shamed. It’s okay to be afraid. Afraid of change. Afraid of turning out like your parents. Afraid of not being as good as your parents, etc. Let yourself face those feelings. And think about how those feelings/fears around parenting could affect how you’d act and how you’d raise children. Reflect on those feelings and/or talk to someone you trust about them.
  • Bigotry: Just like we’d (and I mean “we” as in Black people and other people of color) want racists to stop having POC children, what bigotry do you need to work on before raising kids? Some common ones I see on twitter: ableism (not wanting to have a disabled kid), homophobia (“What would you do if…”), transphobia (pushing assigned gender onto kids, threatening to kill transgender children), and sexism (“I can’t have a daughter…”). These are your issues/bigoted feelings and passing them onto kids is like passing on poison. Only caring about the kinds of bigotry that hurts you is hypocritical. If you aren’t ready to love whoever you bring into this world, don’t have children. You aren’t ready/qualified to train kids into adulthood. And having children despite not being qualified for the job is a selfish act. It makes having children all about you and your life goals and again, raising children isn’t about you. When you make it about you, you will eventually be very disappointed and probably won’t have a very honestly close/stable relationship with your children. It’s about supporting children and training them on how to be grown. If you don’t want to put into this extra effort, you aren’t ready for this job (and I feel for children who are raised in hateful homes. That has longterm effects).
  • Resentment: This is almost unspoken. Parents resenting their children. I mentioned this a little in Part 1 too. Children aren’t just cute IG photos and video clips. They aren’t life goals or trophies to show the world you are successful. Again, ultimately, children aren’t about you. It’s a 24/7 job you can’t clock out of. Are you ready for this job? Are you ready to feed babies in the middle of the night? Scrape butter out of their hair? Deal with the 4th temper tantrum that hour. Watch that cartoon movie you low-key hate 40x? Help your child with homework every single night even though you just got home from work? How about when your kid is a teen and you feel emotionally disconnected from them? Are you ready to make sacrifices for them (social life, privacy, sleep, time, etc)? What are you willing to give up and change as you prepare for your role as trainer/coach of this child? Have you processed this loss? This is huge. This is the loss of your old life and the person you were when you had more freedom and less obligations. Have you reflected enough on this? Have you talked it out as often as necessary? Do you have a plan for a time in the future when you might start to feel resentful and how you’re going to deal with it? Children did not ask to be born. Projecting your non-dealt with feelings onto them is unfair and can harm them emotionally and psychologically in long-term ways.

Don’t drag your children into your mess. Don’t some of you wish someone would have said that to your parents?

Don’t Be Scared To Ask For Help

How do you deal with stress and frustration? I just turned on “Cranes in the Sky” to type this next bit: Do you bottle it in…take it out on people…drink/eat it away…pull away from ppl…? How do you cope with the world around you? Again, awareness in parenting is so important: know yourself so you know what you do to the people around you and the potential impact this can have on a child that depends on you for everything.

Let’s talk about family planning, parenting skills training/classes and psychotherapy. Because you are not alone in this magical 21st century. You can decide if/when you are ready to have kids and I’m actually not talking about finances here. I’m talking potential limitations like the parents’ personality right now, the parents’ trauma, and emotional/mental health. Do you have a solid support system? If you aren’t ready, be honest with yourself. Parenting skills training/classes (especially if led by mental health professionals, ideally of color) and psychotherapy done by willing parents and soon-to-be parents can help build awareness, learn how to deal with emotions, symptoms, and trauma reactions, and, learn new ways of communicating with their children. Also parenting skills classes and psychoeducation teach people the science of how children develop biologically and psychologically. Learning about how the brain develops and what children are actually capable of doing at different ages really helps you make sense of how children act. I see a lot of people who get frustrated at children for being children with child brains. Most of the time, parenting is looked at as something that “comes natural”. Something that you can wing it and everything will turn out fine, except it doesn’t. We know it doesn’t. People can pass their traumas onto their kids and create new ones without realizing because they’re caught up in their own unresolved problems, feelings, and traumas. There’s a lot of stigma on therapy in this society and most people wouldn’t think of it as a regular part of preparing for parenthood and childcare. But I really think incorporating low-cost, high-quality, and culturally competent psychotherapy would change society in huge, positive ways. Imagine more self-aware people, working on what they need to work on, and raising a new generation of people to build that awareness from the very beginning.

A little self-reflection ain’t hurt nobody. Are you ready for children? Like people child-proof a home, have you prepped yourself? It’s your responsibility to make sure that you are fully qualified and prepared to take on this management/supervisor position. Yeah, society is pressuring you, but you don’t have to rush into this if you’re not ready. Your decisions have a huge effect on a whole human’s life and on the people they will deal with. This isn’t just about you and your “Things to Do Before I Die” checklist. If you already have children, remember that this is a job and just like at work, you gotta leave your personal stuff out of this. See a therapist. Take continuing education trainings (parenting skills). Build up your support system/network with other parents. Vent to friends. Taking feelings out on your children or living through them harms everyone in the household. And it’s time for healing.

The next part in the series, Part 3, will cover beginning to reflect on the expectations you have of parenting and the values/perspectives taught by your parents and society. The next post, on 6/10/18, will cover drugs, what substance use is, and how to tell when use has become a problem.

What Can Mindfulness Do For You?

Mindfulness is one of those buzzwords that nonprofits, corporations, and some parts of social media just found out about. And even though it’s really popular right now, not many people seem to really know what it is or which mindfulness techniques to use in their everyday life. Most people seem to think mindfulness is just another word for meditation. In this post, I’m going to break down what mindfulness is and isn’t, the potential benefits of using these techniques, the risks of using them incorrectly, and some examples of simple ways you can be a little more mindful everyday.

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness as treatment has roots in Buddhist practices and has been relatively recently introduced into Western psychotherapy and mainstream pop culture. Since then, many different techniques and therapies have been created and updated. Mindfulness is basically a heightened awareness of yourself. You can use these many different methods to help exercise your awareness of yourself like a muscle. Many people tend to run on auto pilot due to stress, trauma, anxiety symptoms, depressive symptoms, and other mental health and physical health concerns. And as a result, many people lose touch of the present moment. Many people lose contact with some of their emotions or don’t feel totally connected to their own bodies. Or forget how they ever enjoyed the things they used to. Mindfulness is about allowing yourself to just be and accepting your present moment for what it is. No judgments. No rushing to “fix” a feeling to make it acceptable. No pushing thoughts/feelings away. Mindfulness is about giving yourself a little time with your feelings/thoughts instead of pushing it aside or distracting yourself. You could look at it as a way of creating a temporary safe space for yourself. Being aware and mindful can also build empathy which is important in building community and keeping those connections with people. Building community is so important, but are you able to maintain those connections and relationships with people? All that starts with learning and updating your knowledge of yourself. Every day, there’s something new to learn. You stop learning yourself when you’re no longer changing…and we stop changing when we die.

What It’s Not

Mindfulness isn’t a set way of doing things. It’s not 1 size fits all. Put more bluntly, it’s not just meditation. Again, there are many different ways to become more mindful. If 1 method doesn’t fit you, find another. It’s like clothes. Shop around. If 1 way makes you uncomfortable, put it down and find another one. Meditation is not for everyone. Some people with trauma and anxiety symptoms cannot clear their minds, sit still, and/or close their eyes for too long. That’s ok. Don’t mediate. There are lots of other ways to do mindfulness.

The Risks of Using Mindfulness Techniques Wrong

The only technique most people seemed to know about was mindful meditation, but I did notice that many of the negative side effects that were being reported and blamed on mindfulness in general were actually people either being forced or forcing themselves to use mindful meditation when it is not a good fit for them. Many companies have been forcing their employees to try out mindful meditation at retreats/workshops or have implemented mandatory meditation policies, which defeats the entire purpose of mindfulness: learning about yourself in a safe environment when you choose to. Forced therapy isn’t therapy. Employees usually cannot consent and definitely aren’t usually enthusiastically consenting. They’re being strongly encouraged/forced to participate. And usually employers force employees to do 1, maybe 2 styles of mindfulness (usually a kind of meditation), which does not work for everyone. And that can be uncomfortable, unpleasant, and even harmful for certain people, depending on their medical history or life experiences. If employees cannot opt out or feel peer pressured to participate, the “therapy” becomes toxic, ineffective, and potentially abusive.

And besides, companies love pretending their systemic problems and toxic work environments are individual employees’ problems. Morale isn’t going to be fixed with mandatory retreats, ice breakers, and meditation. Pay people a living wage and vet out middle management and you will see miracles.

Something else I saw people saying in my search was that mindfulness can cause depression, psychosis, etc. Mindfulness doesn’t “cause” depression, dissociation, delusions, mania, etc. What can happen is certain techniques, like meditation for example, can kick up uncomfortable emotions, sensations, memories etc. for some people. And without a mental health professional there to supervise you and be a safety net, you shouldn’t be diving deep alone if you are currently dealing with active trauma or other severe mental illness symptoms. Just like you’d think twice before going rock climbing without a spotter. No need for unnecessary risks here. Again, because mindfulness techniques are not 1 size fits all, you can drop that method and use another technique. Mindfulness (when you are doing it alone and not under the supervision of a mental health professional) is supposed to be another form of self-care. Mindfulness is supposed to be tailored to fit your needs and comfort level. It’s not supposed to hurt. It’s not supposed to feel hardcore. It’s not something you are supposed to suffer through. It’s supposed to be something you can look forward to doing as a part of your usual routine.

What Are Mindfulness Techniques Used For?

As I said before, mindfulness techniques are a way to savor life or to be intentional about living life. To be more aware of yourself, what you do, and would like to do. Allowing yourself to feel how you feel: no excuses, no judgment, and even acknowledging the feelings and thoughts that make you feel uncomfortable. Ignoring, avoiding, and/or suppressing emotions because they make you feel uncomfortable is not psychologically healthy in the long run. Those feelings will get pent up and bust out in other ways that you probably will have a harder time dealing with. Mindfulness is the kind of awareness that can give you a little control over your reactions and/or know yourself enough to know when it’s time to leave a situation. Again, mindfulness can also be a kind of self care (See my post about what self-care is here). Mindfulness techniques can give you a way to hit the pause button on your life for a second. Give yourself a little break. Take some time to yourself and put the focus back on yourself and your needs for a moment. Being mindful is not only enjoying the small things in life, but also doing some self-reflection.

Mindfulness is also used in mental and medical health as 1 of many treatments for depression, anxiety, chronic pain, cravings, etc. because it allows people to sit with their emotions, their symptoms, and how they feel about their emotions and symptoms. Some people talk to their anxiety or their chronic pain symptoms as a way to be mindful. “Yeah, I get it leg, You hurting right now. You’re allowed to hurt. You going through real shit right now. I’ma pop this medicine and give you a few minutes to be in your feelings, leg. You deserve a few minutes. But I got shit to do today so that’s it, ok?” There’s power in giving yourself permission to feel whatever you’re feeling. A mindfulness technique people use to deal with intense feelings like drug cravings, cutting urges, or wanting to beat somebody’s ass is called “urge surfing”. Urge surfing is used to help people deal with cravings using awareness, acknowledging emotions, and deep breathing. It’s called urge surfing because you are literally riding the waves of your feelings, rolling with the punches, and staying on top of them. Some people find it helpful to literally picture their emotions moving over them like waves that come and go. Instead of fighting the feelings or trying to distract yourself from feeling like that, stop for a second. Acknowledge the feeling. How is your body feeling right now? Head to toe. Do you have a headache? Are you seeing red? Is your heart racing? Does your chest feel tight? Take the time and observe yourself while deep breathing. Study yourself. The deep breathing helps anchor yourself while feeling the urges. Some people like to talk to their urges too: “My head hurts. I’m shaking and I wanna do xyz so damn bad. I’m tired of feeling all this shit and I wanna use/I wanna beat the shit out of such and such. That’s real. That’s not solving anything in the long run so lemme just let myself rock right here.” Notice and describe your feelings until they eventually start to go away enough that you can move on with your day. Urge surfing generally works because cravings/urges are temporary by nature. Your body literally can’t be in that physical state for long so if you ride it out, they will go away after a while. It’s about acknowledging your feelings and giving yourself some time in the moment. Without judging yourself and without rushing yourself. It’s easier said than done, especially when you are first starting out, but it does get easier to do with time.

Examples of Simple Ways To Help Boost Self-Awareness Every Day

Whatever you choose to do, while you do it, let yourself be you. Let whatever thoughts and feelings happen come and go. Don’t force them along. Don’t push them to leave. Let them come and go like clouds in the sky, rain down a window, or like water in a stream. They’re your thoughts and feelings. See them. Acknowledge them. Observe them until they’re not all up in your face anymore. Eventually, they’ll pass on and you can move on to the next feeling and thought. Pay attention to how your body is responding and any sensations you feel as they come and go. Try not to judge yourself or put labels/values on whatever you are feeling.

Here are some examples things you can turn into mindfulness techniques:
  • Writing
  • Closing your eyes & sipping tea
  • Meditation
  • Focusing on the beat on your favorite song & vibing out
  • Taking an extra long walk, savoring the walk and let your mind go
  • Working with your hands (sewing, crocheting, boot blacking, etc)
  • Urge surfing
  • Relaxation techniques like deep breathing

There are so many ways to be mindful. This society directly and indirectly encourages us to check out and go on autopilot. People are not generally encouraged to be aware of themselves as a whole. Many people struggle with issues that could be handled better if they were more aware of their feelings and behaviors. Mindfulness techniques are useful for checking in with yourself, managing anger and cravings, etc. and it can be a solid part of your self-care. Knowledge is power, right? Know yourself. Take a little time for yourself. Get mindful. I want to end this with a very important point: Mindfulness (and mindful meditation) is not a cure. It is not a solution to your problems. It will not make your depression, anxiety, stress, etc. go away. Like I said before, mindfulness can help you become more aware of yourself. Awareness and self-knowledge is what you can expect from this. And with this awareness, you can make informed decisions about your next moves.

Thanks for reading. The next post is Part 2 of the You So Vain: You Probably Think This Kid is About You parenting series on Wednesday, 5/23/18. I’ll change my focus from the relationship of the parents to each individual parent. I will cover each parent’s personal feelings, thoughts, and fears around having/raising children, how they personally cope with stressful situations, and finally, the importance of learning parenting skills and ongoing therapy before and while raising children.

You Probably Think This Kid Is About You Part 1: Is Having Kids Right For The Relationship?

“So when you having kids?”

Having kids has become just one of those things people do. Graduate school. Get a job. Date. Get married. Have babies. Get a house. Die.  A checkbox on the list of life. It’s taken for granted that everyone is having kids to the point that people side-eye folks who decide to not have kids.

People hear that they will never be fulfilled in life if they don’t have kids in almost the same way that commercials try to convince us that we won’t be happy unless we buy the next thing or consume the next life experience. In general, having children in this society tends to focus on the parents’ wants/dreams/wishes as if babies are a must-have accessory for your late-20s and 30s. To be real and true, this kind of thinking has had most of our parents and most of us messed up. Having babies and raising children should be seen as the job it is. Like I said during my Corporal Punishment/Public Shaming Part 1 post, raising children is like giving on the job training on how to be an adult. Just like any other occupation, not everyone has the juice for every job. This is another situation where knowing yourself is important. Specifically knowing yourself and the people you want to raise children with. Are y’all a good team? Are you (and/or they) a team player?

I’m coming at this Part 1 from the perspective of a psychotherapist providing relationship counseling. This part is not necessarily about the individuals in the relationship (that’s coming in Parts 2 & 3). Here, the relationship itself is the client to be counseled, not the individuals in the relationship. And when I say the relationship is the client, I’m talking about the entity/thing that forms once 2 or more individual people with different life experiences, goals, dreams, perspectives, etc. decide to go with each other. A relationship is not the sum of its parts: It ain’t just you and the other people put together. It’s also the spaces between y’all, the lines between their freedoms and yours, their boundaries and yours, their “stuff” and yours and how all that jives with each other over the time that y’all are together. It gets deep.

Ok, Really Look At Your Relationship Right Quick:

Who are you with? 

Really look at the person you’re thinking about having children with AND look at the relationship. Lemme ask y’all some questions to help y’all start to reflect. Assess your relationship. How long have y’all been together? What’s your dynamic like? Can everyone get their point across? Do you feel heard and respected in the relationship? How do y’all cope with stressful situations together? How do y’all problem-solve together? Are y’all able to talk it out clearly? Do you understand each other?

Have you thought about and talked about your parenting styles?

Have y’all talked about discipline? If you haven’t already, check out the post I wrote about the psychological effects of beating and shaming/humiliating children. Long story short: That mess is abusive and has long term effects on children even after they grow up. Assuming you’ve decided to not hit/humiliate your children and you want to look into alternatives, does your partner/co-parent feel the same way? Beyond discipline, do y’all see children the same way? Meaning, do you think children should be seen and not heard? Do you think children should be able to voice their opinions as they feel? How are children supposed to act in your opinion (I’ll bring this up again in a future part of this series)? How does your partner feel? Do your parenting styles match? Are they compatible? Or will y’all annoy and/or undermine each other?

Parents need to be an united front. If y’all don’t agree on how to raise children, you don’t need to be having children together. Remember, this is a full-time job. You are training a little person in how to be grown and that child does not need 2 supervisors with 2 different opinions, visions, expectations, etc. of how things should look and get done. Dealing with 2 totally different supervisors would be frustrating and tiring as hell for adult employees. And it’s even more intense for kids because you as the parents control their EVERYTHING.

No, But Seriously:

Should you be raising kids with this person? 

You can love someone whose parenting style isn’t compatible with yours. You can be in a whole loving, committed, amazing relationship with someone who does not see parenting the way you see it. There are many different ways to be compatible with someone when talking about sex, dating and relationships. People can be sexually compatible and have amazing sexual energy together. People can just click dating each other and people can even be compatible enough to be together for 10+ years…and still not be compatible to parent together. That doesn’t mean the love or the relationship isn’t real or important. Someone can be right for you as an individual person without being the right person for you to raise a child with. Being your partner and being a co-parent are two different roles with different sets of skills needed to do it right. Just like being an amazing salesperson for many years would not automatically make someone a great supervisor. Two different roles and skills.

Kids ain’t a magical cure-all

Just like moving into a new apartment/house, getting a pet together, or getting married wouldn’t and/or didn’t magically fix any issues that might exist in your relationship, babies ain’t magic either. It’s so sad to see people have children, thinking that it’s going to strengthen bonds in their romantic relationship. Babies are an extra responsibility, a full time job, an expense, and, to be honest, a stressor. Not a bonding/bargaining tool and not a bandaid. The stress of taking care of a baby will KO a struggling relationship. If your relationship wasn’t what you needed it to be before the baby, the pressures, demands, and struggles that come with pregnancy and raising a child will make the problem worse. And I’ve seen many parents turn around and resent their children for making their relationships/lives more complicated and stressful as if the child chose this life. That’s not fair to the child and, being real, it’s not fair to you and whoever you’re with.

Y’all wanna know what heals relationships? Open, honest, clear communication even when it feels uncomfortable, empathy, firm boundaries, and self-care for each person. Learning these tools can be hard if you don’t have good examples of what healthier relationships can look like. Quality couple’s counseling with a culturally competent, sex positive, LGBTQAI-friendly, and non-judgmental therapist, who can model how to use these tools in session while helping y’all work through the issues, would be ideal.

So many people force kids into a relationship situation/environment that isn’t good for raising kids. So many people try to have kids with someone who isn’t compatible to parent with them and that’s not good for them or the relationship. All ultimately because everyone around them and society tells them that people HAVE to have kids to be normal. Sure, it’s definitely EXPECTED for you to have kids, but does it fit you and the situation you are in? If you already have children, it’s never too late to think about whether your current situation or relationship is a stable/nurturing environment for raising children/teens. Awareness is the first step to change and growth. Part 2 of this series will focus on each individual in the relationship, their personal feelings/fears about raising children, coping skills, and the importance of therapy and learning child development and basic parenting skills.

Thanks for reading. Next post will focus on Mindfulness as a tool in therapy and how it can be a useful coping skill on 5/13/18.